Gulsara Rysulbekova, a retailer at Bishkek’s Osh Bazaar, refuses to buy Chinese foodstuffs. “Chinese rice is made out of plastic,” she says. She then points to a sack of red-brown rice grown in Kyrgyzstan’s Uzgen province. “That is what real rice looks like. If I stock Chinese rice, my customers won’t buy it. How can they make plov with Chinese rice?”
Rysulbekova’s comments are a reflection of the uneasy relationship that many Kyrgyz have with Chinese goods. One the one hand, the flood of Chinese imports into the country since the 1991 Soviet collapse has been a blessing. Affordable imports have helped many Kyrgyz cushion themselves against the impact of persistent inflation. At the same time, an open trade policy has created an avenue for Kyrgyz entrepreneurs to gain profits by re-exporting Chinese goods to larger, better-protected markets in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and even Russia. On the other hand, the rise of China’s economic influence in Kyrgyzstan has fostered sovereignty concerns, with many Kyrgyz complaining that their country has become a dumping ground for Chinese junk.
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Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist.